The Road to Peace: Satyagraha, Swaraj and Education
Gandhiji: What does he stand for?
March 1930, an individual challenges the unjust policies of the then mightiest empire on earth not using any weapons but by making salt on the shores of Dandi. This person is known by many names throughout the world, Bapu, Mahatma, or his birth name, Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi. Widely considered to be a prophet of peace even godhead, Gandhiji stands for the idea of resisting injustice and violence with non-violence, something which he practically did all his life by adopting a method he called Satyagraha.
Search for Satya or truth for Gandhiji is the ultimate object, it is to be followed wherever it leads. Truth for Gandhiji is not absolute but relative, everyone’s truth is partial truth or rather a partial understanding of truth, therefore no one can forcefully impose their partial understanding of truth on someone else. This concept of truth has major implications, for one has to resist injustice not through force but through Satyagraha loosely translated as ‘insistence on truth’ or ‘passive resistance’. Non-violence for Gandhiji is not mere absence of physical violence but absence of ill will. Not resisting injustice is also violence. Therefore one has to resist but without using force.
Salt Satyagraha mentioned above is an example of how Gandhiji resisted imperial tyranny of the British by using objects as common yet as significant as salt. Salt in colonial India was a heavily taxed item and its manufacture was monopolised by the government, the result was a commodity which cost way too much for most of the masses of an impoverished country. He chose seemingly simple objects like salt having some fundamental connection with the common people and converted these objects into powerful symbols. Just as he selected salt as a symbol of resisting an unjust order, he also took charkha and khadi as symbols of self-dependence and self respect which he felt were essential for every individual.
By swaraj, Gandhiji meant not just political independence from the British, but a society free from oppression. His idea of democracy was not that of a bunch of people at the centre controlling the entire nation, but he envisioned villages as autonomous units governing their own affairs. Rather than beginning with grand but abstract ideals, Gandhiji worked around concrete issues like revival of cottage industry and village economy. The appeal of Gandhiji lies in the fact that his ideas of peace, justice and democracy were inclusive. He worked for weaker sections of the society, women, harijans, peasants and industrial workers and managed to do something concrete about their real life problems. But these reflect only the socio-political dimension of the term Swaraj. For Gandhiji, Swaraj, meant much more. His concept of Swaraj was transcendental in nature, having the ultimate object of uniting the soul with God, the ultimate union of Atma with Parmatma. The socio-political dimensions described above were merely the means to facilitate such union for every individual.
Education was viewed by Gandhiji as an ongoing process, “... education for life, education through life, and education throughout life.” The objective of education according to Gandhiji is all round drawing out of the best in the individual in all respects, physical, mental, and spiritual. Through education individual should become self-respecting and self-sufficient. Education should serve as a means to social revolution aimed at breaking down the barriers of prejudice between the physical and intellectual labour and the elites in both. In a country and indeed a world divided on the basis of class, caste and gender, having great disparities in the income of one and the other class, education has a role to play in reducing the differences and providing healthy relationship between members of disparate groups and communities. Such a healthy relationship is also required between the rural and the urban community and education has to contribute here as well. He stressed that the educational system must be one in which the highest development of mind and soul is possible and which instills courage and self-reliance in the individual, while at the same time, helping them cultivate the highest intellectual scientiﬁc, moral, and ethical accomplishments. Apart from these values, teacher must aim to inculcate in students such values as respect for both physical and intellectual labour and make them realize the importance of both the city and the village. Gandhiji felt that education should be closely allied to human experiences and he emphasized on convergence of thoughts and actions. Educational ideals must reflect in the actions of the individual.
How is Gandhiji relevant today?
Gandhiji’s ideas of Stayagraha and Swaraj form a coherent whole clearly putting forth the conditions required for peaceful co-existence of the entire human race. Education serves the purpose of preparing courageous self-reliant and moral individuals capable of bringing about the social revolution facilitating the creation of a world order based on truth, non-violence, toleration and justice. If peace education is our aim, Gandhiji’s life itself serves as the textbook, where he demonstrated in practical terms, how violence and injustice can be countered by non-violence. In the hands of an individual with strength of soul, non-violence can be a powerful and effective tool which not only resists but embarrasses a violent and powerful opponent.
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